I’ve never been a fan of awards shows in the music or film industry. Probably because I’ve never won anything. I’ve never even been nominated. Only myself to blame for that, I suppose but as a result, I’ve never tuned in or shown any interest in the Grammy Awards, The Oscars, et al as I’ve never considered the nominations or the winners to be a true mark of what is good or entertaining. Rather, I’ve seen it as someone else choosing what they think I should find entertaining. That and the fact that it’s about as interesting to watch as the tennis. (sorry if you’re a tennis fan but to me, watching that little ball go back and forth between two grunting people for hours is a concept of hell.) Outside of the occasional moment such as the one below,
I find the whole experience rather dull and the results do little for me. For the most part, I don’t know the artists involved. Certainly not by name and, by sound… they all pretty much blend into each other in my opinion. I don’t listen to much radio and, when I do, I find myself frustrated with the weak offerings it has musically (and the seemingly unending Harvey Norman ads which almost incite me to violence!) There’s rarely a song that comes on that I won’t chime in with a bitch about. The chord patterns are tired and boring, the lyrics are cliché, the genre has been done to death, the singer/band has no talent. Usually the production is good (not always, I often find reason to bitch about that too!) but you’d expect it to be when record companies throw established producers and engineers plus a truckload of money at a project. Even then, the material just makes me gag most of the time and if I hear Autotune, I often have to pull the car over and get out just so I can walk off my rage before I start taking it out on other innocent road users. Engineers, producers, record companies and the DJ’s are just going with the same, tried and proven styles and tricks. No one is daring to do something new. What they’ll do is just get their artists to try to out-twerk each other on stage and in film clips in the hope that it will sell a lack-lustre song to an ever increasing, sex starved teenage audience who have likely never been given the chance to listen to anything with genuine musical content.
I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s. I loved the music of those eras (and all the ones that came before them) I know a lot of people bag out the sounds that came from the 80’s in particular but to me, they broke new ground just as much as the eras that came before. Stuff wasn’t necessarily that good but at least it was striving to be different. Yes, there were some really tacky sounding synths and drums and stuff but there was an essence of “dare to be different” in the productions that was superimposed over some genuinely interesting songs. Not in all cases, I will grant you, but I think it would be safe to say that the ratio of quality to shit that existed pre the new millennium was considerably higher than it is today (though I’m sure I will be shouted down by a Justin Beiber fan somewhere).
I don’t think it’s just that I’m getting old. Maybe it’s because I’ve garnered way too much listening history. There’s little that’s new to me. I’ve listened to pretty much every style of music over my life and I’ve managed to find beauty in all of it, from classical to hard core, country to opera, musical theatre to trance, tribal to electronica, jazz to chanting monk. It’s a blessing and a curse to have engaged in as much listening as I have. As an engineer, it’s your job to listen to everything in the musical and sound spectrum. To find something that I would consider new now would be near on impossible. You’ll want to at least mash together some influences that people haven’t already mashed together before if you want to grab my attention. Even then there’s a very good chance that I’ll be able to pull those pieces apart and tell you where they came from which will reduce the song to its base components, rendering it no longer effective as a whole. (and yes, I do agree that a song moves you emotionally as a whole and not just as a sum of its parts.) To be considered “new” or “original” is highly unlikely when that deconstruction is done though.
Let’s take winner of “Best Song of The Year” Grammy, Lorde with her track “Royals”
A seventeen year old girl from New Zealand. I’d have to applaud that to start with as she’s obviously got a lot of talent for someone of such a young age. (Making myself come across as really old here!) I quite like the song (and when I say like I mean I don’t feel the need to turn it down or off when I hear it, I’m unlikely to rush out and buy the album.), but there’s hardly anything very new in it musically. Its components are very basic. A beat and some bass, some subtle synth. The stand out becomes the very “native New Zealand” backing harmonies ala Dave Dobbyn and The Herbs (amongst others of that ilk but that’s the first name that came to mind that you’d probably recognise. It’s actually not a lot like them but it is a lot like a number of other things I’ve heard and recorded).
Nothing new to see here. Nicely executed… but nothing new.
You could argue that lyrically, it tells a nice and engaging story. It does. All about being okay with being working class. I’m not trashing that theme and the lyrical composition is clever and meaningful. Just not new ground. Not a new perspective. Not a new feeling.
I guess it could also be argued that there can’t really be any new ground in music. We’ve gone as heavy as we can go, as light, as dark and as bright, as fast, as slow, as complex, as simple. All the chord combinations have been done. All the note intervals have been played. All our stories have been told as we all experience the same stories and the same feelings. We can’t really come up with a totally new and unique emotion, can we? Can there really be any true originality anymore or do we have to go right back to the beginning and do the same stuff all over again? It seems the record making world thinks that is the case. (Case in point, Gotye’s Grammy-winning hit, “Somebody That I Used To Know” that was really just “Baa Baa Black Sheep” with a re-working of The Police’s “Can’t Stand Losing You” lyrics over the top when you break it down. Nice song. Nothing new.)
I’m scared, people! I’m concerned for the future. At least for the future of my own listening experience. I remember the times when I’d hear something on the radio in the car and I’d have to pull over, turn up the volume and experience a sound that I’d never heard before. Or when a friend came to me with a record or CD and said “You’ve got to listen to this, it’s a game changer!” and it was. I long to hear those words again and then not be disappointed when I actually pressed play.
Perhaps my ears are old.. or my brain. I can still enjoy listening to music, don’t get me wrong. It’s rare though that I’ll hear anything that I haven’t already heard and it makes me sad. I’m chasing that “first high” like drug addicts do. I guess you can never go back to that. Apparently the world hasn’t got enough “new” music in it to give me the buzz I’m constantly looking for. I’m on a constant crusade to feel that hit of surprise you get from a genuinely new thing. Thank God the old classics still give me a bit of a thrill though it is like Methadone rather than Heroin I would think (though I’ve never tried either so this analogy could be completely off track.)
I guess there is some hope. I imagine throughout history we’ve been lulled into thinking that we couldn’t possibly come up with anything “more” and sure enough Steve Jobs comes along and invents the iPad (which is really just the actual working prototype of Gene Rodenberry’s imagination presented in Star Trek some thirty years previous… Just sayin.) But, when there’s a will there’s a way and maybe… just maybe… there’s something developing underground that we haven’t heard yet. My fingers are crossed. If there is though, you can almost guarantee that none of the major record companies will be willing to take a risk on it as long as they can keep squeezing money out of Miley Cyrus and Kanye West. As long as grabbing headlines for doing stupid things in public is selling more albums than any actual talent needs to do, we are all doomed to have a permanent diet of “leftovers”. I live in hope that it finds its way to me regardless. Perhaps by some divine miracle. I doubt tuning into the radio or watching the Grammies is going to be the path that will lead me to it though.